Definitive and totally unbiased guide on how to enter the Toaru series (and why you should!)

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Art by ラコソレガシ

I’ve been meaning to write a post on the Toaru series for a long time. Alongside the likes of Key and When They Cry, the Toaru series has proven to become one of my more recent hyperfixations. And since I don’t run a website dedicated to Toaru, I may as well post about it here!

Lots of people come to me asking how they should first get into Toaru. …okay, maybe it’s more like I try to tell them that they should get into Toaru. And the thing is, despite how much I love this series, it’s a reeeeally hard sell. The early arcs of the Index series are filled with a lot of bullshit that can really turn off potential audiences, and since the story spans so many different forms of media, it becomes really daunting to newcomers, simply due to the fact that they have no idea where to begin tackling such as massive franchise. The good news is that it’s not all bad. While there is some bullshit in the early arcs, there are some really big highlights to hook potential audiences, and it really does help to know that Kamachi grows significantly as a writer after the first 11 volumes, so the promise of a phenomenal latter half (latter three quarters?) should entice newcomers whose interest is captured early on. As for not knowing where to start with the franchise, maybe this guide can help!

For this guide, I’ll be listing all of the story arcs in a vaguely chronological order, detailing how important each arc is and my personal recommendations on how to experience it. While my guide may piss off some purists who insist you should just read all the light novels, considering how much of a time investment it involves for not so much gain, I feel like my guide will help people who want to get the most out of Toaru in the least amount of time. But before we get to that, I need to introduce some basic premises first.

Introduction to the setting

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The Toaru series is set in a world that bares a strong resemblance to our own planet Earth, but with some key differences. In the world of Toaru, there is a conflict between science and magic. While magic is a relatively secretive and unknown practice, the Toaru world uses various myths and legends from Earth’s history as a basis for conjuring miracles of magic. In Kamachi’s world, Jesus Christ can be described as a wielder of powerful magic, and saints are some of the most powerful magic users in the world. Everything from Christianity and Judaism to Norse and Egyptian mythology serves as a basis for constructing magic, and what we end up seeing is that various religious groups employing the use of magic to secretly achieve their goals. Just envision secret assassins sent by the roman catholic church who wield powerful magic to purge any threats to their faith, and that’s pretty much Toaru what you’re getting into with Toaru.

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Toaru is however set in a modern day world, where science is already proving itself as the predominant doctrine of the people. But what adds a bit of spice to the world of Toaru is the main setting. The heavy majority of Toaru takes place in a small independent city-state near Tokyo called Academy City. Here, it is said that their level of technology is “30 years ahead of the rest of the world”. So while everyone else outside is playing with their brand new iPhones, Academy City is a canvas of awesome science fiction, much of which you can really see actually existing in a decade or three. That is, with the exception of Academy City’s main attraction, the Esper Development Program. So if magic users wasn’t enough, you also have an entire city full of X-Men with powers ranging from being able to keep flowers from wilting without water to being able to create an entire army of autonomous soldiers out of exotic matter. And it just so happens that the magic organisations of the world don’t like Academy City due to a fundamental incompatibility between their doctrines, so the world is currently suspended in a sort of supernatural cold war. Sound cool? Well sorry but we have more pressing matters to attend to, like whether or not Touma is gonna get to the grocery store before closing! That may sound a big kick in the nuts, but I feel like that’s one of the major charms of the Toaru series. Even when the world is literally on the brink of destruction, the story reminds us that even heroes have a daily life to return to. Just, you’ll need to give the story a bit of time before we examine this global conflict in further detail.

The Multiple Series

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Okay, now that you have a basic understanding of the setting, I can explain how the different series work. Toaru Majutsu no Index / A Certain Magical Index began as a light novel, and is the basis upon which all the other series’ are spin-offs of. Index follows the life of Academy City resident Kamijou Touma, “the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere”. Despite being a member of the Esper development program, he is completely powerless, ranking Level 0 in terms of Esper powers. That is, except for a mysterious power in his right hand that can’t be described as either magic or science, that has the unique ability of negating all supernatural phenomena it touches. Touma believes that his hand is actively negating god’s blessings, which he blames for the constant misfortune he experiences in his daily life, often taking the form of happening upon girls naked and getting punched or worse. Yeah, it’s very trashy light novel stuff, but that’s exactly Index’s element. And as the story progresses and you see Kamachi develop as a writer, you’ll get to watch him play with these trashy tropes in really interesting ways. Just, give him a bit of time. Being the main plot, Index is full of crazy ambition and develops the world unlike any of the other series. It portrays story arcs that are heavily magic-focused, others that are heavily science-focused, some that are a bit of both, and later on some that focus on the conflict between science and magic. Also, Index is long. Really long. More on that later.

On the other side of the coin (heh) is Toaru Kagaku no Railgun / A Certain Scientific Railgun, which follows the perspective of Touma’s acquaintance Misaka Mikoto, a Level 5 Esper and the third most powerful Esper in the city, according to their ranking system. Her power allows her to freely manipulate and generate up to a billion volts of electricity, and even manipulate electromagnetic fields, which has an enormous number of potential applications in battle. While Touma is kind of a loser in a school filled with powerless students, Mikoto lives in a prestigious girls school filled with powerful Espers. What makes Mikoto appealing to audiences is that despite being a member of the elite, she never lets it get to her head, and always remains cool and friendly to her peers, treating everyone as equals. Basically she’s just a really well-rounded and likeable female protagonist, with a surprising absence of any sexual fanservice to be found in her series. What distinguishes Railgun from Index is the fact that it is entirely set inside the confines of Academy City, and therefore has little to no interaction with the ‘magic world’. Railgun is almost exclusively science fiction, with a healthy dose of feel-good slice of life (particularly in the anime) thrown in-between exciting and dangerous Esper battles. Basically, it’s a recipe for success, and there are many who think Railgun is superior to Index for these reasons. What Railgun lacks is ambition, since they never want to out-do Index. What Railgun does offer is an alternative to Index. The later arcs of Railgun all overlap with story arcs of Index, and offer us different perspectives on the same series of events (or even different events occuring at the same time as Touma’s adventures), so it’s really cool if you’re into that kind of parallel worldbuilding. But admittedly, it’s a bit complicated chronologically, which is why I’m here to help with this awesome, cute and pop guide for you all. There’s also some extra stuff like Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator which I’ll mention briefly, but that is so far a much smaller series (and I haven’t read it) so I won’t be spending too much time on it. Now then, time to get to the guide. I won’t be including the Index manga here since it’s very incomplete and doesn’t really add anything as a viable alternative to the anime, but hey, feel free to browse that at your own leisure.

Stage 1: Index Arc

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LN Vol. 1 / Index Season 1 Eps. 1-6

The question of where to start is already pretty divisive. Some people will tell you to watch/read Railgun first since it begins chronologically earlier than Index, but I feel like it’s very odd to start with a spin-off if you fully intend on experiencing the main series. Given that, I strongly recommend starting with the Index arc. This comprises episodes 1-6 of the Anime and Volume 1 of the light novels. Despite some things I may say about other arcs, the Index arc sets the beginning of the story off on a great note, and does an excellent job of introducing the concepts of magic and science to first-time readers. While the anime adaptation is decent, I have to recommend reading the light novel here, since it goes into considerably more detail in explaining important information than the anime does, which is more of a skim over the main concepts than a proper explanation. Exposition aside it’s also got some really solid drama and action, so it’s a great at providing those hooks to people curious about the series. If you don’t enjoy the Index arc, then maaaybe Toaru isn’t for you. If you did enjoy it at least somewhat, then please press on! Much greater things are to come. Also, I hope you like the character Index, because she’ll be sticking around. No, she doesn’t get any character development after this arc. This is may be the only time she’s a likeable character, so soak it up, her character only goes downhill from here.

Skipability: Level 0. Read this, don’t watch it!

Stage 2: Level Upper Arc

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Railgun Season 1 Eps. 1-14 + OVA / Manga Vol. 1-3

Now we’re gonna get to that Railgun thing all the kids are talking about. Reading Railgun doesn’t inherently add anything to your experience of Index (barring one exception), but it has a lot of value in it’s own right, so it’s up to you if you want to give it a look alongside your experience of Index or consume it at another time. But the purposes of this guide, I definitely recommend giving it a look after the Index arc.

Of all the Railgun arcs, Level Upper is pretty great, and introduces some of the issues Academy City faces on a societal level, with it’s own refreshing slice-of-life stuff thrown in for good measure. People will tell you how it’s chronologically set before the Index arc, but this is a largely irrelevant detail since there’s virtually no overlap between the two stories. This is a completely independent story arc which serves to better introduce us to academy city and Mikoto’s life. However, this is also the point where the anime and manga diverge. While the manga will continue straight into the Sisters arc, the anime stuffs around with looots of anime-original content after this, which features a lot more SoL and a lot less interesting plot, so proceed according to your personal tastes. Moving forward I’ll be listing the arcs in a vaguely chronological order, and skipability will come into question. My suggestion? Jump into Deep Blood Arc of Index.

Skipability: Level 2. You can continue with Index if you like, but because of Sisters arc I strongly recommend giving this a look! It’s also a great intro to Academy City.

Stage 3: Big Spider Arc

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Railgun Season 1 Eps. 15-16 (Anime Original)

See above.

Skipability: Level 4. Only watch if you’re already quite enjoying the Railgun anime!

Stage 4: Poltergeist Arc

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Railgun Season 1 Eps. 17-24 (Anime Original)

See above.

Skipability: Level 4. Only watch if you’re already quite enjoying the Railgun anime!

Stage 5: Deep Blood Arc

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LN Vol. 2 / Index Season 1 Eps. 7-9

This is where the Index sell becomes a bit more difficult. Deep Blood arc, while cool in some aspects, is plagued with some very problematic and boring writing that really becomes a grind to get through. Fortunately, the anime only spends 3 episodes on it, and later on the novels try to actively forget it ever existed (let’s say it poses some problems to the consistency of the story’s universe). While skipable, I wouldn’t recommend skipping any of the main Index novels altogether. Purists may tell you to read the light novel as god intended, but my recommendation is to just watch the anime, it’s not long.

Skipability: Level 3. Bad and unimportant arc, just watch the anime.

Stage 6: Sisters Arc

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LN Vol. 3 / Index Season 1 Eps. 10-14 / Railgun S Eps. 1-16 / Railgun Manga Vol. 4-7 (Ch. 18-39)

Okay remember when I said early Index is shit? Well LET’S JUST NOT INCLUDE THE SISTERS ARC IN THAT because hoo boy is this a good arc. Some even argue that this is the best arc of all of Index, but I’d say some later Light Novel arcs eclipse it. (many Toaru fans haven’t read the light novels!) Nonetheless, this arc is really really good, but it introduces some problems for new viewers. See, this arc has been adapted in multiple formats. It all started in Index Vol. 3, which spans 5 episodes of the anime. And it was really awesome. But then fuckin Railgun moves in and is all “Hey guys, mind if I make your Index arc seem completely inferior with my god-tier adaptation?”. The Railgun version of this arc is Index but stronger. They spent more than half of Railgun S (the second anime season) on this damn arc; they know how strong it is. But the Railgun version just offers so much more detail and context for everything that’s happening that it makes the final confrontation where Touma appears on-scene so much sweeter. My honest recommendation is that you ignore Index for a bit here and just watch episodes 1-16 of Railgun S instead. Accept no alternative, this arc deserves the best adaptation it has. This is why I recommended at least experiencing the Level Upper Arc before moving ahead with Index, because you need that context to appreciate the Railgun adaptation of the Sisters arc. I mean if you’re a real purist you could just read the light novel, but then you’d be missing out on so much beautiful storytelling. Seriously guys, hear me out on this one. At most just skim over the Index anime in case you’re afraid you missed anything. In terms of narrative significance, this introduces us to our anti-hero and second protagonist, Accelerator, and marks the beginning of his story.

Skipability: Level 0. Watch the Railgun S adaptation. Accept no substitute!

Stage 7: Silent Party Arc

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Railgun S Eps. 16-24

Having watched the first 14 episodes of Railgun S you might be compelled to finish it. But be warned: it doesn’t even compare to the first half. I was really let down by what was left, it just felt so bland and shallow compared to the first half. But hey, completionists gonna complete.

Skipability: Level 5. Bad and insignificant. Go back to Index.

Stage 8: Angel Fall Arc

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LN Vol. 4  / Index Season 1 Eps. 15-17

This one is kinda divisive. Some found it very amusing, others found it very boring. But nonetheless, it does introduce some concepts that will be pretty important later on, and it is referenced quite a bit, so you probably shouldn’t skip it. This is kind of the point where Index dips into mediocrity for a good few volumes before getting good again. It may feel like a grind, but hopefully there’s enough to come that will keep you at least a little interested for the amazing story arcs on the horizon. My recommendation for the next few is gonna be pretty consistent: don’t bother with the novels, watch the anime instead.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 9: Three Stories Arc

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LN Vol. 5 / Index Season 1 Eps. 18-20 + Season 2 Ep 1 (Yeah it’s weird)

While a little on the boring side, this arc does introduce some pretty important plot developments, so it’s definitely worth watching. Don’t worry about the chronology of the anime not matching the light novels, just keep on keeping on.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 10: Kazakiri Hyouka Arc

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LN Vol. 6 / Index Season 1 Eps. 21-24

This one is at least decent. Not Index or Sisters level good, but one of the higher points of the lull. Still, I recommend watching the anime over the light novel unless you really find it appeals to you. Like always, there’s a lot being introduced here which is pretty important to the lore of Toaru, so you can’t exactly skip it.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 11: Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator (Necromancer Arc)

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Accelerator Vol. 1 to Current

I must confess that I haven’t read Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator / A Certain Scientific Accelerator yet, but my sources tell me that it takes place some time after the Three Stories Arc. In-between seasons 1 and 2 of the Index Anime seems like a good place to pick it up, if ever. Dunno how good it is either! It might be really good. Considering it’s modern day Kamachi it’s probably really good.

Skipability: Level Unknown. It’s probably really good as an independent story!

Stage 12: Orsola Aquinas Rescue Arc

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LN Vol. 7 / Index Season 2 Eps. 2-5

This is one of major magic-side arcs, and it does get us more intimately acquainted with the roman catholic church faction, but I dunno, it just ended up feeling kinda flat to me from a storytelling perspective. Definitely one of the weaker arcs for me.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 13: Tree Diagram Remnant Arc

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LN Vol. 8 / Index Season 2 Eps. 6-7

In terms of development, this feels like a sort of prototype Railgun arc before Railgun was a thing, with Railgun being published the following year (likely in response to positive reception). The story focuses on the relationship between Shirai Kuroko and Misaka Mikoto, and Touma only plays a supporting role. Of this lull in Index arcs, this feels really refreshing and entertaining, but had the unfortunate side-effect of making me dislike the magic arcs in comparison to the science arcs for a while. It’s actually really quite enjoyable for what it is though. Light novel or anime, I’ll leave this one up to you.

Skipability: Level 1. Might even be worth reading!

Stage 14: Daihasei Festival Arc

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LN. Vol 9-10 / Index Season 2 Eps. 8-13

This marks a sort of turning point for Index, as it’s the first story arc to take place over multiple volumes of the light novel. The Daihasei Festival is a pretty big event that takes place across all of Academy City, and features Touma running around all over to save everyone. It’s very fast-paced and frantic with lots of fun stuff going on, but as far as it goes compared to other Index arcs, still a little on the weak side for me. It’s okaaay, tastes will certainly differ here. Some will like it more than Tree Diagram Remnant, for example. The good news is that we’re aaaalmost out of the lull. Only a little more to go!

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 14-B: Daihasei Festival Arc (Railgun Manga)

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Railgun Manga Vol. 7-10

Assuming you skipped the Silent Party arc, you get to enjoy this next arc of the Railgun Manga after a huge timeskip. The funny thing is that this arc is significantly more interesting than the Index arc taking place at the same time, but unlike the Sisters arc, the Railgun version is a very independent story arc, and doesn’t really have much crossover with Index at all despite occurring at the same time. So no, this won’t serve as a replacement for the Index arc of the same name, but will compliment it nicely. I won’t go so far as to recommend this straight after watching the Daihasei Festival Arc in Index, but keep it in mind and come back to the Railgun manga sometime. This arc is really good, and cements Railgun’s position as an independent story with it’s own unique value distinct from Index.

Skipability: N/A. This arc is non-essential, and you can come back to it whenever you want from this point onward! Definitely recommended you read it at some point.

Stage 15: La Regina del Mare Adriatico Arc

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LN Vol. 11 / Index Season 2 Eps. 14-16

Ehhhh. This arc is kinda cool, very action-focused, but I just found it boring for some reason. Personal bias aside, this arc properly introduces us to the conflict between the roman catholic church and academy city, with Kamijou Touma at the forefront of a minor conflict. This is, you could say, the spark that ignites Index’s true potential. Even if you don’t enjoy this arc itself, rest assured, it only gets better from here.

Skipability: Level 2. Watch the anime.

Stage 16: Academy City Invasion Arc

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LN Vol. 12-13 / Index Season 2 Eps. 17-22

Congratulations, you did it! You stuck with Index and got over the lull. This is where shit gets good, as it officially marks the beginning of Index’s first overarching story arc: the Gods Right Seat story arc. The Academy City Invasion Arc itself is super intense and exciting, showing us the first true conflict between Science and Magic that we’ve been promised all this time, and really ramps up the scale of things. Shit’s hype, and only gets you interested for more of what’s to come! There is some bad news though, and that’s the the anime is kinda, about to end. From here out you’re gonna need to break open the light novels if you want to continue. But if you read the Index arc in light novel format, you’re at least a little prepared for the level of reading required. Given this, I actually recommend people read the novels of this story arc over the anime. Don’t get me wrong, the anime adaptation of this arc is solid, but now is the best time to get into the right attitude for reading the light novels. If you want, watch the anime after your reading to see how it was adapted, but you should definitely be getting into the light novels around this point.

Skipability: Level 0. Now’s the time to start reading the light novels!

Stage 17: Skill-Out Uprising Arc

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Toaru Majutsu no Index SS Light Novel / Index Season 2 Eps. 23-24

Wow. They actually ended the Index anime on a fucking side story. After all the hype of the Academy City Invasion Arc, they end on this? What a boner killer. That said, this arc is kind of important even as a side-story, because it introduces us to our third main protagonist of the Index series: Hamazura Shiage. Wait, is it a spoiler to say that that loser will become a protagonist? Well yeah, he’s kinda important, so you should definitely read this despite it’s label as a side story. But it is kinda slow, so yeahh, way to kill the hype set up by the last arc.

Skipability: Level 2. You can read or watch this one.

Stage 18: Document of Constantine Arc

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LN Vol. 14

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. This is the first light novel exclusive arc, and it’s really damn cool. Arguably not as cool as Academy City Invasion Arc, but it does continue the Gods Right Seat story and I personally loved it. This one really does a great job of further highlighting the conflict between magic and science as tensions between the two sides grow ever higher.

Skipability: Level 0. You’re in for the long haul now!

Stage 19: Battle Royale Arc

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LN Vol. 15

This is one of the story arcs often cited by people as one of the highlights of the entire series. This one is entirely science side-focused, kind of like a Railgun arc but with no Misaka in sight. This time it’s all about Hamazura, Accelerator, and a bunch of newly introduced groups of characters doing battle in Academy City. I think it’s really fucking cool, and while it doesn’t add that much to Touma’s story, it really cements the appeal of the Toaru universe. You can just keep adding side-stories and we’ll lap that shit up! *slurping noises*

Skipability: Level 0. Good shit fam.

Stage 19-B: Dream Ranker Arc

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Railgun Manga Vol. 11 to Current

This is where we’re at with the Railgun Manga at present. Most of it seems to be taking place concurrent to the Battle Royale Arc, but showing a different perspective and different story. I’m enjoying it a lot so far, but feel free to pick this one up whenever you feel like it.

Skipability: N/A.

Stage 20 Onwards

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From here on, you have the rest of the Index light novels ahead of you. I could talk about how amazing the Acqua of the Back and British Royale Family arcs are, but by this point you’ve either given up on Index or are in it for the long haul. If Academy City Invasion, Document of Constantine and Battle Royale Arcs did anything for you, then you’re gonna love the rest of what Index has to offer. And you know what the best (or worst) part of this is? In terms of light novel volumes, you’re not even halfway through what’s been released of Index yet! You have so many amazing story arcs ahead of you that you’re gonna love. You can read SS2 whenever you want from here on, and the rest of the extra arcs are available to you now as well. And when you’ve caught up to date with New Testament, come back to me, and we can gush about the series together. Because despite the rocky beginning, the Toaru series has SO MUCH to offer, to the point that it’s become a huge obsession for me. And really, if you stick to the anime for the early part, it’ll go by in no time! Let’s recap once more with my personally recommended route of progression through the Toaru franchise.

Read Vol. 1 of the Index LN
Watch Episodes 1-14 of the Railgun Season 1 (Or skip if you wanna focus on Index)
(Watch Episodes 15-24 of Railgun Season 1 ONLY IF you’re really into the characters and atmosphere)
Watch Episodes 7-9 of Index Season 1
Watch Episodes 1-16 of Railgun S (Or read Vol. 3 of the Index LN / Episodes 10-14 of the Anime if you’re a Railgun hater. I don’t endorse this!)
(DO NOT WATCH THE REST OF RAILGUN S UNLESS YOU HATE YOURSELF OR HAVE SHIT TASTE)
Watch Episodes 15-24 of Index Season 1
(Maybe read Accelerator manga here, or whenever)
Watch Episodes 1-16 of Index II
Continue to Episode 24 if you really want, otherwise you should get into the mood by reading Vol. 12, 13 and SS of the LN.

Vol. 14 of the LN onwards has yet to be animated, so continue reading on and enjoy the rest of the awesome series of Index!
Read the rest of the Railgun Manga sometime.

With about 3 days work, you’ll have experienced everything necessary to dive into the light novels! Some parts may be a bit of a grind, but there should be enough good content there to keep you going. At the very least, you should have a good idea of whether or not Toaru is for you or not after the first volume. If you like when you see, then press on, and you’ll be greatly rewarded. I hope this guide is helpful for some of you getting into Toaru for the first time! In conclusion…

WHEN’S INDEX SEASON 3?!?

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Introducing Rokkenjima: A Fragment for 07th Expansion fans

Hey guys! It doesn’t need to be said that Kakera Complex has been a bit of an afterthought for me these days, with majority of my free time occupied by Kazamatsuri. But I figured I’d share some news here, since I figure it may be of interest to some of you. Branching out from Kazamatsuri, me and my colleagues have decided to form a network of communities dedicated to discussing niche media, which we’re calling the Kazoku Collective. Joining Kazamatsuri is our second community, which I’m sure will interest some of my readers here.

rokkenjimalogo

Welcome to Rokkenjima. It should be common knowledge by now that I’m a huge 07th Expansion fan, especially Umineko, as evidenced by all my blogs about it and this website’s own title. This is something I’ve wanted to make for a long time now, but never found the right time, until today. With Higurashi being officially released on Steam, Umineko soon to come, and a number of different Visual Novels and Manga being worked on by Ryukishi, I feel like now is the best time to start a community like this. Finally, 07th Expansion fans will have a place to call their own. If I’ve piqued your interest, please drop by, and maybe even consider joining our community. I hope to see many of you there! Let’s prove to everyone that the 07th Expansion fandom is here to stay.

https://forum.rokkenjima.org/t/welcome-to-rokkenjima/8

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Thoughts on Undertale (True Pacifist Run Complete)

Wow, it’s been a while since I had an excuse to post something here! WordPress looks super different now, what is this? It actually looks kinda nice. Well anyway. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the neutral and true pacifist endings! I might update this later with, that other ending too. Time to vomit some text onto a page! I’m not particularly caring for presentation right now, I just wanna type some thoughts out as they come to me, get it out of my system.

dogs

Undertale! It’s the game on everyone’s lips right now. I’m not really one to follow trends for the sake of it, but when I first saw it, I knew that this was the kind of game that appealed to me on so many levels. Lovable dialogue and characters, laugh out loud humour, thought-provoking story, charming pixel art, amazing soundtrack, tricky puzzles, action-packed gameplay (in a turn-based RPG even!), and numerous unique gameplay mechanics: the option to spare every enemy you see through dialogue puzzles, and the fact that the game remembers everything you’ve done on some level. And of course, there’s the way that it combines these narrative elements into the gameplay. It’s reminiscent of a few of the good Visual Novels I’ve played, and I can see the influences of games like Earthbound in the design, and I even get some Metal Gear Solid 2 vibes from the psychology behind it. Mhm, this is definitely an Aspirety game. I was hooked after the first hour!

So by now I’ve had the chance to play through the game as a pacifist, seeing the neutral ending and eventually the true ending, and I have to say, this game is freaking amazing. It delivered on just about everything I hoped for. But, that’s not to say that the game isn’t without its problems! No, the gameplay was pretty much perfect for me, as it managed to stay fresh with plenty of twists with each new encounter, and it presented a difficult yet fair challenge the entire time. I love the way that the game becomes much harder if you want to be a pacifist; it really makes you work for that happy ending. No, my biggest problems with this game are in the narrative.

Let’s start by looking at the prologue with Toriel. This is what really got me hooked on the game. Being confronted with a situation in which talking does no good, and at the time Mercy seems ineffective as well, and originally I accidentally ended up killing her. I had so much regret that I reset my game and started again, even if I knew this was cowardly, and found a way to save her. The way that the game develops this sense of agency in the player is amazing, but it also manipulates that by judging you for your every action. It starts from the moment Toriel scares you into acting independently by walking down the room on your own, until forcing her to confront her and decide what kind of future you’re going to lead once you step out. And then there’s Flowey, who knows what you did, even if you reset. But, there’s a problem here. The whole Determination concept is something which makes Undertale’s narrative so powerful and unique, but the issue is that if you go back and save Toriel, Flowey pretty much spoils the twist then and there. And, it IS a twist! Entering the game you don’t expect that going back and loading an old save to undo something you’ve done would have any permanent side effects, but more than that, very few people would imagine that the ability to save and load is incorporated into the narrative as an important plot point. That’s very clever, but it’s also perfectly suited to an amazing twist at the end of the game. “Oh my god, it was my determination that got me this far!” But if you save Toriel, the game robs you of that revelation because Flowey shoves it in your face. “So you have inherited the power to shape this world to your will, to save.” When I heard that I was just thinking, god dammit Flowey, you’re spoiling a plot twist! Maybe it’s my fault for going back like that, but I really wish that they saved this card until the very end. The game could’ve used that twist much more effectively than it did.

Another issue I have with the narrative is the bipolar tone of the game. Sure, I can get behind the duality of the genocide and pacifist paths, that’s clever. I can appreciate that sometimes the comic relief steps aside for some very serious twists and turns, I thought the normal ending was amazing, and really gave me this sense of overwhelming despair while fighting against Flowey, which I had to fight hard to overcome through my determination. But the one thing that really damaged my immersion was the sudden twist in the true pacifist ending. What do you get as a result of befriending everyone and making everyone happy? You get to see the true lab, where the game suddenly goes full horror out of nowhere and you have to confront these abominations of twisted science in a super creepy laboratory. I mean, this could’ve been okay, if it wasn’t for the fact that the situation is completely resolved by Alphys ‘telling the truth’ and sending all the amalgamations home to their families. I mean, what kind of a resolution was that? In the final goodbyes, you see all the amalgamations living happily with their families, and it’s just like, how? How did we go from existential horror to “and they all lived happily ever after” so easily? I can’t stomach it.

This also ties into my problems with the true ending. Yeah, I didn’t really like it that much! After you finish in the true lab, you get to the final confrontation with Asgore, which was originally my favourite part of the game, and then it’s just, HEY all your friends are here to stop this from happening, yaaaay friendship! But OH NO Flowey is back, but it’s okay because he’s fighting you because he loooves you! Not to say that ending didn’t have emotional impact, but it just felt really cheap compared to everything that came before. And the worst part is how it was ultimately resolved. The barrier is broken, and all the monsters return to the surface world, and they all lived happily ever after. Except, when you really think about it, that doesn’t make sense! We know that the humans and monsters were on bad enough terms to go to war and for the monsters to be banished underground, and that the last encounter the two races had was full of violence and spite. Why would they think that everything would be better once they escaped? I’m sure that leaving for the surface would invite many more problems! Without a massive political struggle, it’s hard to imagine that they could avoid persecution from the human races. They’d have to fight very hard to avoid a war, let alone secure their rights. I just find it a really difficult ending to stomach. It’s as if the writers knew the players wouldn’t be satisfied with the normal ending where everyone stays underground, and shoehorned this happy ending in without thought of the implications. While the rest of the game had some surprisingly adult themes, this ending felt like a children’s book, which I have difficulty accepting. I’m sure plenty of people will be satisfied with this ending, but it just felt way too ‘easy’ for me. This is another case of an “It’s not enough” ending damaging the overall narrative. That’s only a spoiler if you know what I’m talking about.

I’m writing this right now to draw attention to some of the glaring flaws in the game’s writing that I can’t ignore. As of now, my favourite ending has to be the normal ending, even if it wasn’t super conclusive. The true ending just left a bad taste in my mouth. All that said, this game is still a must-play. I’ve mentioned many of the merits of this game above, but the one thing that really stands out for me is the sense of agency this game instills in the player. This isn’t a FPS where you’re a pawn whose role is to shoot the enemy and progress through the game. This is a game where you are given tremendous freedom to decide how you’ll play the game, and what kind of result you’ll achieve through your actions. It’s very introspective, you have to put a lot of thought into your every action, because every action is judged. There are other games that do similar things, but this one still stands out amongst them. It’s a unique experience I’d recommend to anyone who appreciates unique and memorable experiences in gaming, or even as a story, despite its flaws.

Biggest highlight for me so far would have to be the final fight with Asgore in the normal ending. He’s such an amazing character. Through people’s conflicting descriptions of him, I was really curious how he could be thought of as a soft-hearted pushover and also a merciless warrior at the same time, and it turns out, he really was both. Kind and carefree to those under his rule, but still able to take innocent lives in cold blood for the sake of his people. Now THAT is a good villain. And so, I’d spent the entire game up to that point getting through without having to kill anyone, and when Asgore destroys your option to give mercy, it hit me hard. But still, I was determined to stop him without murder, I tried everything I could think of. The game dangled a tiny thread of hope before me once I died, as it acknowledged my deaths through the dialogue. The more deaths I accumulated, the reaction from Asgore would change, so I died 10 times to see if I could change anything. And then, that hope was stolen from me as the dialogue changed to “You tell him he’s killed you countless times before”, and I knew that then that I had no other option. Well, I at least considered the possibility that this was a trick to stop me from trying any more, and died one more time, but alas, nothing changed. It was at that point that I knew that the game knew exactly what I was trying to do, and manipulated me with this bait of hope, before forcing me to do something I desperately wanted to avoid. In the end it turned out okay, but the process that lead to that point, where the game and I were sharing this dance of predicting each other, that was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. The fact that the game can generate these unique emotional experiences for me is worthy of endless praise. This is what the video game medium is truly capable of; genuine player investment.

So, how will I feel once I’ve experienced the Genocide run, where I have to put aside my own wants and values for the sake of unseen content? Where I have to drive the stake through my allies and become a villain? I’m kind of terrified, and that makes me excited.

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How can we transform Umineko into a Game? Establishing a basis for constructing Gameboards.

Hey guys, sorry it’s been a while since my last real post here. Various things, like Kazamatsuri.org for example, have been taking up my time lately, and to be honest, posting blogs here has become much less of a priority right now. It’s reached the point where my Rewrite reflections are on indefinite hiatus. If I don’t end up finishing them, it might be worth revisiting Rewrite from the beginning for Kazamatsuri.org in the future, but I haven’t decided anything yet. I apologise to everyone who’s been waiting on those – I’m just not feeling it right now.

Empty Chair

Anyway, lately I’ve been thinking about Umineko, and how its formula could be transformed into a game. It’s easy for anybody reading Umineko to imagine taking up the role of Beatrice and creating their own Gameboard to challenge someone with. I personally know a few fans of Umineko who have attempted to establish their own game, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus of how to turn Umineko into a game. I’m writing here today in the hope of giving people who are interested in creating their own Umineko games a starting point; a basis to build upon. It should go without saying, but this post contains spoilers for all eight episodes of Umineko.

But if you want a relatively spoiler-free summary, click here.

After giving it some thought, I’ve identified three distinct types of games that could be constructed from the Umineko formula. Here, I’ve provided some basic rulesets that creators can build upon if they so choose.

1. Static Puzzle

A static, non-interactive game that can be solved by anyone in their own time. It is published by the Game Master in its entirety with all clues presented, read by the Challenger, and from the clues it is possible for the Challenger to reach a solution. An in-text example of this is Bernkastel’s Gameboard from Episode 8 with the purple text.

The latter two are interactive role-playing games, with one distinct difference.

2. Meta RPG

An interactive role-playing game where the Game Master invites one or more people to challenge her. The Gameboard can be presented all at once like the static puzzle, or gradually revealed over time, but the Challenger needs to be provided with the opportunity to cross blades with the Game Master; each side wielding the Red and Blue truth to force their opponent into checkmate. It is distinguished from the third type by the fact that the Challengers in this game cannot directly interact with the Gameboard in any way.

3. Real-Time RPG

An interactive role-playing game where the Game Master invites one or more people to challenge her. In this type, the Gameboard is presented to the Challengers in real time. The Challengers each control a piece on the Gameboard, while the Game Master narrates the events happening on the Gameboard to the Challengers, explaining everything they see and hear and giving them opportunities to choose how their piece will act on the Gameboard. At any point in time the Challengers or Game Master can pause Gameboard to interact on the Meta level, and exchange Red and Blue truths. Following the rules established by Lambdadelta in Episode 5, at the time the Gameboard reaches its end, the final battle will take place on the Meta level to determine a winner, requiring the Game Master to respond to all Blue with Red.

I think you’ll find that as we progress from the first to third types, they increase in difficulty to set up and play, but also in the amount of potential for entertainment they hold. I’ve tried to leave these different classifications as open as possible, so as not to place unnecessary limitations on anybody who might decide to use any of these as the basis for their game. Really, people can do whatever they want with this. It doesn’t have to be set on Rokkenjima, it doesn’t even have to be about a witch. What makes the Umineko formula so interesting to me is the meta, and the red and blue truth. But people could add all sorts of custom rules to their games to keep them interesting and unique.

Here’s a couple of ideas I’ve had in my head since establishing this basis. Type 1 seems to be the kind of thing you can publish anywhere and let people solve it, but Type 2 seems like a perfect fit for message boards to me. I’ve already seen an example of this online, but basically the Game Master would post their Gameboard on a forum, and invite anybody on the forum to attempt to jump in and add their own blue statements for the GM to respond to. The example I saw of this had the GM post the Gameboard in 5-10 segments, allowing Challengers to wield the blue truth at any time in-between, but you could just as easily post the entirety of the Gameboard in one post and let the Meta game unfold from there.

Type 3 seems like it would be played best in person or through real-time online voice or text chat, maybe with a map to visibly move pieces around, like Dungeons & Dragons and the like. But one idea I had was having the Game Master invite a single challenger to their game, communicating through voice or video, and streaming their game for the whole world to see. This could work for Type 2 or 3. You could even turn it into a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire sort of thing, where the Challenger can ask the stream viewers questions a limited number of times to gain some new perspective and ideas.

Type 3 has all sorts of custom rules you could put in place to make things interesting. Umineko itself has plenty of fodder for different ideas, like providing the challenger with tools like the duct tape or other special agencies to establish red truth without the consent of the Game Master. You could choose whether or not to incorporate Knox or Van Dine’s rules. Or you could decide on whether or not to allow the Challenger to adopt an EP6 Erika style of play, where the Challenger becomes the aggressor in an attempt to corner the Game Master into a logic error, conceding victory to the Challenger.

Or, another more exotic idea I had: you could mix up Type 3 even further by having an entire group of Challengers controlling pieces on the Gameboard, but one of the Challengers is secretly the culprit. They would be interacting with the other Challengers pretending to advance the story and corner the Game Master, but secretly working with the Game Master to throw the other Challengers off the trail. The trick here would be that any narration the Game Master makes about what the culprit piece sees or hears could be falsified. So for example, if the culprit piece splits off from the rest of the players on the Gameboard, the Game Master would be able to work with the culprit Challenger to construct a completely false narrative about what they did after they left, perhaps allowing the murders to take place in that time. As a result, the Challengers would need to spend time questioning each other to determine whether they can trust each other, while trying to determine which one is the culprit. I really like this idea, but it would probably be very difficult, and require a high level of competency from all players involved. It also shifts the focus away from the Game Master and more onto the Challengers themselves.

Of course, a simpler idea would be to incorporate something similar to the purple text rule in Episode 8, where only the culprits are allowed to lie to the Challenger’s piece. Throw in some detective’s authority and theatregoing authority too if you want to make things a bit easier on the Challenger.

Well, here’s just some ideas I’ve had. What do you think of my three types of games? Do you think they’re pretty solid, or is there room for dispute? Is there perhaps a 4th or 5th type I haven’t considered?

Do you have any other ideas of different rules you could use to create an interesting game from this basis? Please let me know if you have any more ideas, there’s bound to be an unlimited number of different rules you could add onto these three base games I’ve thought of.

Would you yourself consider using one of these three bases for constructing your own game? If anyone does decide to do so, please let me know, because I would love to see them. Or if you’ve even created your own game that doesn’t subscribe to these bases, I’d be interested to see it nonetheless.

All this talk about games almost makes me want to construct my own game…

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Thoughts of an aging Otaku

I’m 22 this year, going on 23, and I love Anime. Not to say I love all Anime; over the years I’ve been watching I’ve acquired a more developed appreciation for the medium. You won’t hear me singing praises of Sword Art Online, yet nothing gets me more excited than discussing Umineko or Little Busters.

I’m writing today because I’ve recently noticed that all of a sudden, most of my peers are dropping this hobby. It seems I’ve reached the age where this kind of thing isn’t as socially accepted as it once was. I know I’m still young, but it’s only going to become more of an issue as I continue to age. The average Anime convention attendee is about 5 years my junior; it’s not long before I start feeling out of place.

I made a lot of my current friends through connections based on a mutual love of Anime and related Japanese culture. What I’m seeing now is majority of those friends are abandoning that hobby, with varying comments from “I don’t have time for it any more” to “I’ve grown out of it”. I know rationally this shouldn’t affect me, but seeing it happen to all my friends leaves me with an irrational feeling of loss that I’m still learning how to cope with. For many of them, this mutual interest is what sustains our relationship, and losing that common thread can be devastating. But that’s not the only issue. Hearing comments like that causes me to seriously question my hobby, and how it influences my identity as an adult. Most of us are only able to continue hobbies like these because we have the acceptance of our peers and some of assurance that it’s okay to like the things we do. But seeing all my peers and friends drop that hobby, I begin to question the validity of my interests. Am I just a child that can’t face reality? Do I need to grow up? The prevalent NEET Otaku stereotype doesn’t help matters either. I’m sure many of my peers faced similar questions, and decided to leave it behind in favour of new, more adult ways to spend their time.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit stubborn. I think it’s very important to assess our behavior and how we fit into society, but I can’t accept that getting excited over something like Umineko is merely a phase to grow out of. I can only speak for myself, but the answer I’ve reached is this. I want to build my adult life around this passion. Is that a strange answer? Anime, and it’s related culture, is such a big part of my life, such a big passion that I’m convinced I won’t grow out of it. It’s here to stay. So, I figure the best way to continue is to integrate it into my identity as an adult. I want to build a career around it. My inspiration has come about from seeing so many adults working in the industry who love Anime, and built their career around that love. I can’t imagine a better life than building a career around what you love; that’s what I want to emulate. Maybe I’ll end up selling Anime merch, maybe I’ll get into licensing series’, or maybe even localisation work. I’m not sure exactly how yet, but I want to be able to give something back, to integrate Anime and Manga and Games into my adult life. It just… Makes sense to me. Is that so strange?

So, I’ll be closing with some open messages. To those of you who may be unfamiliar with the culture, don’t be so quick to judge it. While there are many bad examples of Anime fandom, and heaps i’d really poor Anine, there’s a lot of his stuff out there. A lot of heart that goes into producing Anime, and some of the stories I’ve discovered through the medium have such profound messages, the likes of which can change a man’s life. Some have brought me to cry where I barely shed a tear anywhere else. Maybe if you give it a chance, you’ll find a series even you can appreciate. It’s just too broad to judge based on one or two impressions.

To those who have moved on from Anime, I wish you all the best. I’m sure you reached that decision after some careful deliberation, and while I’m still learning to cope with seeing some of my friends turn away, I can only respect their decision. I only ask that you don’t cast judgment on those of us who will continue to love that culture late into our lives. It was special; I hope you don’t forget that feeling.

And to those out there my age and older facing similar questions, don’t lose heart. Loving Anime doesn’t make you immature. You need to look inside yourself and decide if this is the kind of adult you want to be, and if it is, then you have my support. It’s not always easy to go against the crowd, but what’s most important is that you live your life for yourself, rather than based on what you think you SHOULD be doing. And most importantly, no matter how it may seem, you’re not alone.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let’s continue moving forward.

Posted in Musings, On The Chessboard | 17 Comments

Little Busters!: Common Route Day-By-Day Reflections

Mission

Hey guys! Just dropping by to let you know that I’ve been doing a little Reflection series at Kazamatsuri.org. Since the 14th of May, I’ve been reading through the common route alongside the days of the month, writing a short reflection on each day. They’re getting longer and longer though, and if you’re a reader here then you probably like listening to my reflections~

If you’re a Little Busters fan, check it out! It may contain some spoilers though, so be wary.

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Angel Beats! Visual Novel: What We Know So Far

abeats3

Hi guys! I’m not dead, just been very busy over at my new website Kazamatsuri.org. Over on the forums, one of our community members, Bizkitdoh, has done work assembling a thread full of all the known details on the Angel Beats! Visual Novel. Remember my post about all the LB Anime details in the months and weeks leading up to it’s broadcast? It’s basically that kind of thing. If it interests you, go check it out!

On a side note, yes, I do intend to finish my Rewrite reflections, but they’ll have to wait a bit longer. Still lots of work to do on Kazamatsuri.org!

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